Five-star Arsenal thrash sorry Everton but miss out on Champions League

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: David Cliff/AP</span>
Photograph: David Cliff/AP

Fifth place will have to suffice for Arsenal, but at least they were able to depart with a reminder of the progress this season has brought. It became clear quickly enough that there was to be no miracle at Carrow Road and there will be lingering regret that, given a golden opportunity, they let Champions League qualification slip from a position of such advantage.

But this was totally dominant showing against an awful Everton who, coming off Thursday’s emotional high, never showed the slightest appetite for a contest. The biggest surprise was that Frank Lampard’s side managed a goal through Donny van de Beek. By then Gabriel Martinelli, with a penalty, and Eddie Nketiah had already scored; Cedric Soares, Gabriel Magalhães and Martin Ødegaard added the rest, and perhaps Mikel Arteta will wish a few of those strikes had been shared around at times of greater need.

Arsenal’s will to complete their side of the bargain could not be faulted, even if Everton contributed to their dominance with a numbing passivity. It was little surprise that the visitors, who never looked anywhere near solid enough to carry out their approach successfully, were picked off. Arteta’s players had enjoyed 94% of possession by the quarter-hour mark; perhaps the energy their opponents had expended in hauling themselves to safety so thrillingly on Thursday night did not lend itself to a running game but, even so, their willingness to sit back rather than participate bordered on the extreme.

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The initial frustration for Arsenal was that dominance did not mean a stream of chances, even if they could still have gone ahead. Ødegaard’s close-range effort was blocked in the fifth minute and, not long afterwards, Martinelli saw the whites of Asmir Begovic’s eyes after a ricochet off Tom Davies. Begovic, starting in the injured Jordan Pickford’s absence, saved smartly from the Brazilian although a reversal in fortunes would not be far off.

When it came, Arsenal knew Spurs had scored at Norwich and effectively put the top four beyond them. They had started to drift a little and even allowed Everton a sortie, Demarai Gray requiring Aaron Ramsdale to parry a volley. But the control was still almost total and, when Martinelli’s shot from the left edge of the area deflected off Alex Iwobi’s upper arm, Everton paid the price for relying on pinball.

A VAR review ended with Andre Marriner checking his monitor and awarding the spot-kick; common sense would deem the decision harsh, as Iwobi’s limb was hardly outstretched, but by today’s drearily pedantic standards it was probably correct. Arsenal would, in any case, contend that these things even out over a season.

Rather than ruminate, Martinelli chose to get on with the job and sent Begovic the wrong way. Quickly enough he had an assist to his name, flicking on Bukayo Saka’s right-sided corner so that a stooping Nketiah could glance across Begovic from inside the six-yard box. If it was a farewell contribution from Nketiah, whose contract runs out at the end of June, then he could not have offered up a better precis of his gifts.

Nketiah flicked Saka through but the winger shot wide after holding off Jarrad Branthwaite; Begovic then saved a Granit Xhaka sighter and Arsenal looked well placed to cut loose. But they have not shed their propensity to make things complicated and, with the first half’s final action, were flat-footed as Dominic Calvert-Lewin cut sharply across. Van de Beek, on as an early substitute for Abdoulaye Doucouré, tapped in and some sort of contest briefly beckoned.

Twelve minutes after the interval Soares settled it, wrapping his right foot around the ball from 15 yards after Saka had laid a quick, clever corner back to him. It was scant surprise that Everton did not have the wit to spot the danger, nor that their afternoon swiftly worsened.

Another Saka corner, which he had won himself with a 50-yard run and shot, was half-cleared and Soares took aim again on the far side of the area. This time his strike was diverted into the path of Gabriel and, from a position more beloved of a centre-forward, the defender lashed untidily through Begovic.

Arsenal’s support could then enjoy some sport in jeering Dele Alli, given his first Everton start with Richarlison injured, from the field when he was substituted; they also welcomed Alexandre Lacazette for what, presumably, was his own farewell. Nketiah made way for the Frenchman, but with no grand gesture.

Only one flourish remained and it came from Ødegaard who, smoothly as ever, dropped a shoulder to enter the penalty area before sliding immaculately past Begovic.

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